An Inside Look at Colombia’s Indigenous Guards

Colombia Indigenous Guards training 3

Indigenous Guards in Colombia prior to the beginning of training; each guard carries a baton as a symbol of his or her membership. Photo: Intercontinental Cry

by Robin Llewellyn, Intercontinental Cry, Dec 11, 2017

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos may have received the Nobel Peace Prize, but peace has not come to Colombia. Social leaders and members of indigenous communities have been targeted in a wave of assassinations that has swept through the countryside during this supposed “post-conflict” era–and the state has failed both to stem the killings and to curtail the spread of illegal mining and drug trafficking.Indigenous guards are elected by their communities and mandated to protect Indigenous lives and territory without the use of arms. Throughout both the civil war and the undeclared battle for territory and resources that has followed it–and carrying only the staffs that serve as their mandate of office–Indigenous Guards have been killed by non-state armed groups of the left and the right, by the forces of the state, and by mafias unaligned to political ideologies. Yet they have also succeeded in arresting heavily armed opponents and submitting them to the justice systems of indigenous territories and the state.

Colombia Indigenous Guards training 1Today new challenges arise as communities consider whether Indigenous Guards should be paid and become professionals, and whether or how they should integrate their function with that of the Colombian police.

No region of Colombia has been more affected by the newest wave of assassinations than the department of Cauca in the southwest. The reservation of Juan Tama lies on the border of Cauca and Huila departments, high up in the Sierra Central. Juan Tama contains a training ground where Indigenous Guards from Nasa, Misak, and Yanakona communities regularly meet to challenge each other and themselves.

Intercontinental Cry recently had the opportunity to visit Juan Tama during one of these spirited competitions.

Over the course of one single day, teams of indigenous guards must go through an obstacle course that has to be completed while racing against the clock. This particular event saw a competition between Nasa, Yanakona and Misak reservations from across Cauca and Huila.

Colombia Indigenous Guards training 2The life of an indigenous guard is not for the faint of heart. It comes with great personal risk and an even greater responsibility, as Fredy Chikangana, a poet and ‘Amauta’ (An Amauta is a Qechua word translated to mean, “messenger from the ancestral knowledge of the Yanakona People”) from the Yanakona reservation of Rioblanco, would tell us in a later interview.

Fredy Chikangana told us that, “[B]eing an indigenous guard is a great responsibility in terms of the community and the territory. It is not just a matter of carrying the staff of office without commitment: there is a mission and it has to do with culture, with maintaining harmony in the community and maintaining harmony with Mother Earth.”

“To be an indigenous guard is a question of knowing to accompany the good work of the indigenous authorities, but if an authority fails, one also has to remember one’s ultimate obligation.”

“The ancestors had various names for the indigenous guards of their day,” Fredy explained. For instance, there is ‘Aukaruna’ which is the Qechua word for a warrior, and ‘Aukas’ who were the vigilant beings of the forests.”

“To be a good indigenous guard one needs to have physical and mental readiness. It’s not just strength, it’s also the capacity to solve problems for the wellbeing (“buen vivir”) of the community.

To read the rest of this in-depth article and see more photos:


Posted on December 14, 2017, in Warrior and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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